It was a bit of a stretch finding room to do everything I needed to do today but, in the end, it was no panic. (I’m sorry, I just couldn’t resist…)
First up at the Duchess tonight was Chris Johnson, ex-many bands and current guiding force behind Parade. Tonight he was strictly a solo and acoustic act, although with lots of reverb on the vocals. Chris treated us to solo versions of Start Again and Ending, from Parade’s album The Fabric, as well as songs from his solo repertoire and one from his time with The Evernauts (the band that eventually became Hazzard County) which was the story of Lucifer being kicked out of heaven disguised as a syrupy country love song. Chris always seems to me to be a little uncomfortable between songs, rarely looking the audience in the “eye”. This doesn’t really matter, though, as it’s the music we are here for and, tonight, Chris provided us with a very entertaining set. This is one artist that I like more every time I get to see him.
Completely different in tone and style, Blaze Camero are a four piece rock band from Knaresborough. Their music is not quite heavy metal but certainly loud, powerful and fast. Vocalist James Plummer has a very strong voice, and a cheeky sort of charisma that makes him a near-perfect front man. For a young (and new – as far as I can tell, their first gig was only in November last year) band, they played incredibly well and seemed to have the crowd, large numbers of which it seemed were there just to see them, fully entertained. Unfortunately, there is currently no music uploaded to the link above, but the band have a 3 track demo CD out next month and it should be well worth a listen. Definitely a band to look out for and I hope they play York again soon. The only thing bugging me about the band is that I’m sure I’ve seen bass player George Tyreman somewhere before but can’t for the life of me think where.
Finally, Panic Room took to the stage. Their first album was my favourite release of 2008 and last year’s follow up was a close second behind Transatlantic’s The Whirlwind, so it’s fairly safe to say that this was the first essential gig of 2010 for me. There were a few familiar faces in the audience but, thankfully in a way, there was also a lot of new, younger ones, proving that prog might have a future beyond its cliched audience of middle-aged men. (Yes, I know that I’m a cliche…)
Tonight’s set, if not identical to last year’s gig at the same venue, was a near as damn it and featured songs from both Visionary Position (sadly, still no Firefly) and Satellite, as well as a full band makeover of Blood Red Sky, from Anne-Marie’s solo EP, The Contact. Anne-Marie herself, stunning as usual, seemed to be struggling a little bit with the vocals to start with – the sound during opener Freedom To Breathe was a little muddy – but, as the set went on she grew in strength and, it has to be said, gave it her all during a hundred minute set in which she, vocally at least, carried the whole show. Whether it’s the playful I Am The Cat or the powerful Dark Star, her voice is nothing short of amazing. Paul Davies does now contribute a few backing vocals – I can’t remember whether he did last time around but Anne-Marie did make a fairly big deal out of the fact that he was helping her out. However, it’s his guitar-playing that he’s really there for and tonight he was superb, his facial contortions showing just how much effort he puts into the playing. Once upon a time, I was impressed when I saw a five-string bass. Alun Vaughn, however, blew that out of the water by playing not one, but two six-string basses, providing (along with Gavin on drums) some superb rhythm sections. In some ways Jonathan Edwards is the quiet man of the band but his keyboards are the mainstays of many of the best of the band’s songs.
When I last saw Panic Room, Satellite had yet to be released. Now that I’ve had the chance to familiarise myself with the album the live set is even more stunning than it was then. (Even if favourite songs are missing from it. Have I mentioned that before?) Panic Room remain one of my favourite bands, both recorded and live.